John Petit (1533)

Few citizens were more esteemed in London than John Petit, the same who, in the house of commons, had so nobly resisted the king’s demand about the loan. Petit was learned in history and in Latin literature: he spoke with eloquence, and for twenty years had worthily represented the city. Whenever any important affair was debated in parliament, the king feeling uneasy, was in the habit of inquiring, which side he took? This political independence, very rare in Henry’s parliaments, gave umbrage to the prince and his ministers. Petit, the friend of Bilney, Fryth, and Tyndale had been one of the first in England to taste the sweetness of God’s word and had immediately manifested that beautiful characteristic by which the gospel faith makes itself known, namely, charity. He abounded in almsgiving, supported a great number of poor preachers of the gospel in his own country and beyond the seas; and whenever he noted down these generous aids in his books, he wrote merely the words: “Lent unto Christ.” He moreover forbade his testamentary executors to call in these debts.

Petit was tranquilly enjoying the sweets of domestic life in his modest home in the society of his wife and two daughters, Blanche and Audrey, when he received an unexpected visit. One day, as he was praying in his closet, a loud knock was heard at the street door. His wife ran to open it, but seeing Lord-chancellor More, she returned hurriedly to her husband and told him that the lord-chancellor wanted him. More, who followed her, entered the closet, and with inquisitive eye ran over the shelves of the library, but could find nothing suspicious. Presently he made as if he would retire, and Petit accompanied him. The chancellor stopped at the door and said to him: “You assert that you have none of these new books?” — “You have seen my library,” replied Petit. — “I am informed, however,” replied More, “that you not only read them, but pay for the printing.” And then he added in a severe tone: “Follow the lieutenant.” In spite of the tears of his wife and daughters this independent member of parliament was conducted to the Tower, and shut up in a damp dungeon, where he had nothing but straw to lie upon. His wife went thither each day in vain, asking with tears permission to see him, or at least to send him a bed; the jailers refused her everything, and it was only when Petit fell dangerously ill that the latter favour was granted him. This took place in 1530, sentence was passed in 1531; we shall see Petit again in his prison. He left it, indeed, but only to sink under the cruel treatment he had there experienced. While he was imprisoned in the Tower Thomas Bilney was imprisoned next to him. The Wader was a kindly man and allowed them to talk and have meals together.

In 1533 Anne Boleyn was Queen and John Fryth (see this website) was allowed out of the Tower on parole. He would visit friends of the Gospel and one evening he visited the house of John Petit who had been released from the Tower. Petit was very unwell, and when he saw Fryth he was confused, wondering whether it was his ghost. They spent their time together discussing the Reformation that was so important to the two of them.

This came from 'The Reformation in England' by Merle d'Aubigne.

Additional Information

John Petit died at home, but the cause of his death was his imprisonment in the Tower of London

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